FORT MYERS, Fla. — Michael Conforto and Seth Lugo face the same unenviable situation this spring training, albeit for different reasons.
While each can say he helped push the Mets into the postseason at least once, neither can say for sure if he’ll be standing on the foul line in New York on Opening Day.
Instead, Conforto and Lugo find themselves caught in a numbers game, one that could end with both being squeezed off the roster.
With the Mets one game into their Grapefruit League slate, a 3-2 win over the Red Sox on Friday, none of that is set in stone. But barring a shift brought about by injuries, the Mets could have too many outfielders to carry Conforto and too many pitchers to take Lugo.
Still, neither wasted time making the decision tough on the Mets.
Lugo, 27, did not allow a hit in two scoreless innings. Conforto, 23, went 2-for-3, including a towering solo homer off righthander Kyle Kendrick, perhaps the first step in wiping away a frustrating season.
After jumping from Double-A to the big leagues in the middle of the 2015 season, Conforto gave the Mets’ lineup a boost and starred in the World Series. Then he began 2016 with a torrid April, but he never pulled out of a subsequent tailspin that cost him a spot in the big leagues.
After starting on Opening Day last season, Conforto might not have a spot in 2017, with Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson and Yoenis Cespedes expected to anchor the outfield.
“I don’t feel the pressure,” Conforto said. “I think my job is to just go out there and work hard, work on things that I know I need to work on, to just be a better player . . . Stay healthy. I wouldn’t say that I’m really feeling that pressure. I think I just need to go out there, play the game, have fun, and the rest will take care of itself.”
The Mets still view Conforto as a promising prospect, as shown by their actions this offseason. As first reported by Newsday in November, the Tigers approached the Mets, hoping to deal J.D. Martinez for Conforto. But the Mets never considered the deal.
“Bat quickness is very good,” Terry Collins said. “The plane of his swing is much, much better than I saw last year. Those are all great signs. I know he worked hard this winter to go back and rekindle that old swing, and I guess he’s got it.”
On most staffs, Lugo would be assured a spot. When injuries crushed the rotation last season, he went 5-1 with a 2.68 ERA in eight starts. Alongside fellow rookie Robert Gsellman, Lugo salvaged the Mets’ season.
But only one spot in the 2017 rotation appears up for grabs, and to get it, Lugo must beat out Gsellman. Sources said Friday that the pitcher who doesn’t win the rotation spot could stick around in the bullpen. But there is another school of thought: The pitcher who is squeezed out could be sent to the minors.
“We’ve got to wait to see what happens at the end of spring,” Collins said. “If our entire staff stays healthy and we’ve got spots, we’ve got to protect ourselves.”
Not that Lugo isn’t used to a challenge. Before his emergence last year, he never was regarded as a major prospect. But by the offseason, the Mets found themselves shooting down trade offers for Lugo, just like Conforto.
“Every spring I come in, there’s always been guys above me,” said Lugo, who walked two and struck out three Friday. “So I’m just the same way always, going about my business and working on what I need to work on and see what happens.”